Enter Laos - the most bombed country on earth....
Trip Start Oct 09, 2007
98Trip End Aug 01, 2008
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We heard a lot of nice things about Laos, concerning the people and the landscape; and that the country is changing dramatically every day...
We also heard that travel is very slow; and that because it is a Communist country, people are very poor, and communications are quite limited. Even more, Laos is the most bombed country on earth (thanks to secret bombings by the good ol' US of A).... We knew also that there were more tribal peoples than were people who concidered themselves to be Laotian; and that Buddhism was outlawed for 25 years (since the communist revolution), but that it is now back and more alive than ever before....
We needed to see Laos for ourselves. We knew we had a journey ahead of us, an adventure.
On the bus towards the Laos border, we met a friend named Tom, from Washington, who was also going the same complicated route as us. He was travelling alone, we got along fantastically, and he asked to "tag along" with us on our journey into Laos. Since we got along great, and he had great enthusiasm, we of course agreed.
So, where the three of us were entering Laos is VERY remote, concerning access to the major towns of Laos. Houay Xay is a fishing village which does trade with the bordering country of Thailand, and its in the far North-Western region of Laos (where the gateway to Indo-China is and the Golden Triangle). In order to get to the next MAJOR town, Luang Prabang, one must travel via the mighty Mekong river. There are 2 ways of doing this, a slow boat which takes 2 whole days to complete the journey, or a speed boat which takes 6 hours, may or maynot inlclude helmets and has a high fatality rate. We opted for the slow boat the following morning. Until then, we had one night to explore the town.
First impression of Laos: "no garbage laying around like Thailand... Interesting..There must be some type of garbage clean up program..." Well, there is! Impressively, we saw major trash pickups. This was so refreshing, compared to the Thais obsession with burning every plastic thing they can get there hands on. Anyways, that was just the first thing we noticed. So, we were hot and tired and the three of us wanted a beer. The second thing we noticed was that we had all of one option: Beer Laos, the only beer sold in Laos. There is also one brand of liquor sold in Laos, Lao Whiskey and Lao Vodka (I guess that where the communist "no choices" comes in to play!) There is also something called Lao Lao, which is like Laos moonshine, made by the tribal people and sold in plastic bags- just for the sake of options.
After the nice beer and the many polite, "no thank you, we dont want to buy any drugs" speeches, we found the Red Cross. What a find! Tom went to donate blood and then we all experienced the Red Cross hot sauna for $1, including all the tea and fruit we wanted. What a treat! From there, we found a neat little "dining place" and ordered some food. There werent any menus, but a lot of locals were eating there, so thats where we had to eat too. The owner came up to us and asked, "fried rice?" He asked us this, because thats pretty much the only dish they know tourists eat. Well, I asked for Laab (also known as Larp and Larb), as I already knew this is one Laotian dish I really liked. Laab is a minced meat dish (any meat and can be tofu too), cooked with cilantro, onions, peppers and lime juice, a really refreshing dish. Well, he didnt understand what the heck I was saying. SO, we told him, "yes, we would like fried rice, AND any meat dish you think we would eat". He came out with 2 dished of fried rice with bits of meat added to it. classic.
Wandering around after dinner, and noticing the big blood-red moon out, we heard chanting and the dramatic beating of drums. Curious, we followed the beat up this steep hill that had to have 100 steps into it, which let to a temple. Once at the temple, we noticed it was the monks who were chanting and beating the drums. Meanwhile, the villagers and the children were parading around with lit candles in their hands. We watched as everyone gathered around a huge formation built of straw, and put prayers, incense and there burning candles into the stucture.
The tower went up in flames and was probably the biggest bonfire we have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Meanwhile, right behind us and the onlooking crowd, were the teenagers of the village: wearing polo T-shirts with ties and sideways hats, and they were in the middle of a breakdance circle! Amazing, seeing these 2 generations of villagers congregating together: traditional and modern.
That was a great first day in Laos. The three of us headed back to our hotel where we HAD to get some sleep: we had an epic adventure ahead of us, in the morning!ALso, there is a nation-wide curfew!! Everyone must be at their home by midnight. And there were loudspeakers along the streets at 11:30, telling people "its that time...." - - - crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!